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in publick: he knows, that mankind live all in masquerade, and that whoever presumes to come amongst them barefaced must expect to be abused by the whole Assembly: he could therefore have no motive for thus imparting his free sentiments to the publick, except the dictates of his own heart, which tell him, that it is every man's duty, who comes into the world, to use his best endeavours, however insignificant, to leave it as much wiser, and as much better as he can. Induced by this motive alone he at first undertook this Inquiry; and now, actuated by the same principle, and unprovoked by all the senseless misapprehensions, and malicious misconstructions, with which it has been tortured, he will here, with all possible conciseness, endeavour to explain those parts of it, which have been so misunderstood, or misrepresented, and give satisfaction iiito all, who are either able or willing to understand it.
The first Letter treats of Evils in general, and endeavours to prove, that they all owe their existence, not to any voluntary admission of a benevolent Creator, but to the necessity of their own natures, that is, to the impossibility of excluding them from any system of created beings whatever; and that in all such systems, however wisely contrived, they must have, and must at all times have had a place. Against this, but one material objection has been urged; which is this, that, in order to make room for this necessity of Evil, the real existence of a paradisiacal state is represented as at all times impossible; and consequently, the Mosaick account of that state is utterly exploded, on which the whole fabrick of the ivChristian Religion is erected. How far the literal belief of that account is essential to the true faith of a Christian, need not be here decided; because not the least mention of it is made in this Letter: and therefore this objection is intirely founded on a mistake. The argument there made use of, is only this, that some have endeavoured to justify the goodness of God from the introduction of Evil, by asserting, that at the beginning there was no such thing, but that, at first, all creation came out of his omnipotent hand, endued with absolute perfection, and free from all Evil, both Natural and moral: to shew, that this was an ancient opinion, some lines are quoted from Ovid's Metamorphosis, describing the Golden Age, in such a state of perfect happiness and innocence; on which the Author, thinking them to be no part of any one's Creed, imagined v himself at liberty to observe, that from the nature of man, and the nature of this terrestrial globe, which he inhabits, the real existence of such a state seemed impossible; and therefore, that these descriptions of it could be nothing more, than amusing dreams, and inchanting fables. This bears not the least reference to the Mosaick Account of Paradise, in which such a State of absolute perfection, void of all Evil, is so far from being described, that the Serpent, or the Devil, the parent of all Evil, is one of the principal characters of that History; which therefore by no means contradicts the proposition here asserted.
The second Letter undertakes to shew, that Evils of Imperfection are in truth no Evils at all; but only the absence of comparative good, resulting solely from the necessary viinferiority of some Beings with regard to others, which cannot be prevented in a system of creation, whose very essence consists in a chain of subordination, descending from infinite perfection to absolute nothing. To this likewise one objection only has been made; which is, that no such chain of subordinate Beings, reaching from infinite perfection to absolute nothing, can, in fact, exist; for this notable reason; because no being can approach next to infinite perfection; nor any be contiguous to nothing. But this argument being no more than a quibble on metaphysical terms, to which no precise ideas are affixed, neither deserves, nor is capable of an answer.
The third Letter treats of Natural Evils; and attempts to shew that most of these, which we complain of, are derived likewise viifrom the same source; that is, from the imperfection of our natures, and our station in the universal system: to this are added three conjectures; first, that many of our miseries may be owing to some secret, but invincible disposition in the nature of things, that renders it impracticable to produce pleasure exclusive of pain; a certain degree of which must therefore be endured by individuals, for the happiness and well-being of the whole: secondly, that many other of our miseries may be inflicted on us by the agency of superior Beings, to whose benefit they may possibly be as conducive as the deaths and sufferings of inferior animals are to ours: and, lastly, that by the ancient doctrine of Transmigration, the miseries, which for the sake of general utility we are obliged to suffer in one life, may be recompensed in another, and so the divine viiigoodness be sufficiently justified from the admission of them all. To every one of these some objections have been made: against the first it has been alledged, that this impracticability to produce pleasure, without pain, whence arises this utility of the sufferings of individuals for the good of the whole, is meerly a production of the Author's own daring imagination, founded on no reason, and supported by no proof. To which he answers, that he proposes it as a conjecture only; but cannot think it ill-founded, since it is confirmed by the appearance of every thing around us, and since it is reasonable to believe, that a benevolent Creator would not have permitted his creatures to have suffered on any other terms. In ridicule of the second conjecture, it has been asked, with an ixair of humour, whether we can think it credible, that superior beings should ride, or hunt, or roast, or eat us, as we make use of inferior animals? Which question is most properly to be answered by another: whether, in the unbounded system of creation, there may not be numberless methods, by which beings of different orders may be subservient to each others uses, totally above the reach of our comprehensions? To doubt of which would be like the incredulity of the ignorant peasant, who can scarce be persuaded to believe that there is any thing in the world, some specimen of which he has not beheld within the narrow limits of his own parish. To the last it is objected, that the doctrine of Transmigration being only the fanciful and exploded opinion of some ancient Philosophers, in the times of darkness, ought not, by the Author, to xhave been here advanced in direct contradiction to the faith and tenets of the Christian religion: to which he replies, that he neither proposes this doctrine as an article of his own belief, or imposes it on others; but mentions it only as the most rational conjecture of the human mind, uninformed by supernatural assistance concerning a future stare: that it is confirmed by Revelation he does not pretend, but that it directly contradicts it, by no means appears; so silent are the Scriptures concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection, that the most learned divines still widely differ on that subject; some maintaining that it enters immediately into a state of retribution; others, of sleep; and others, of purgation from past offences: why therefore is it more repugnant to the sense of these writings, to suppose, that it may possibly xianimate other bodies during that period, and, at the last day, receive such punishments or rewards as is due on the whole account of its past behaviour? Thus the probability of every one of these conjectures seems to be sufficiently established, and they appear perfectly consistent with reason, and not at all contradictory to revelation.
The fourth Letter endeavours to account for Moral Evil: the most arduous part of the whole undertaking; to which end it attempts to shew, that the common opinion, which derives it solely from the abuse of free-will in man, is ineffectual for that purpose; and that therefore, though its very essence consists in the production of natural Evil, yet it could never have been admitted into the works of a just and beneficent Creator, if it had not some remote and collateral tendency to universal good, xiiby answering some ends beneficial to the immense and incomprehensible whole: one of which may possibly be the conversion of unpreventable miseries into just punishment by the production of guilt, without which they must have been inflicted on perfect innocence. To this account of the Origin of Moral Evil, not only many weighty objections have been made, but on it many imputations have been laid, of a most formidable nature, as that it makes God the cause of all wickedness, destroys Free-will in man, and consequently roots up the foundation of all Virtue and Morality whatever; and it is, moreover, charged with inconsistency and self-contradiction thro' every part. To all this the Author replies only, that he is assured, that, if any intelligent reader will peruse the whole Letter together with candor, and attention, it xiiiwill evidently appear that these accusations are entirely groundless. He makes no manner of doubt, but that man is endued with Free-will, and is justly punishable for the abuse of it; and hopes he has so expressed himself, through this whole piece, as to leave no uncertainty of his opinion on that question: all he means is, that though the abuse of Free-will is undoubtedly the immediate cause of Moral Evil, yet it cannot from thence derive its original admission into the works of a benevolent Creator; because man, not being a self-existent and independent being, must receive that Will itself, together with his nature and formation, from the supreme Author of all things: for which reason he cannot apprehend, that the general wickedness of mankind can be an accident proceeding from their unforeseen wrong elections, by which the whole xivbenevolent system is defeated; but must be a part, and a material part too, of the original plan of creation, wisely calculated by the incomprehensible operations of vice, and punishment, to promote the good and happiness of the whole. For, to assert, that any thing has happened which God did not intend, or that he intended any thing which did not happen, is a language, which may be allowed to the Poet, or the Orator, but never to the Philosopher; unless we can suppose, that Omniscience can be disappointed, and Omnipotence defeated. As to Inconsistency, he denies not the charge; but believes he is not more inconsistent than all who have undertaken to write on the same subject: the Scriptures themselves are guilty of the same seeming inconsistency on this head; they all represent Man as a Being s perfectly free, punishable, and punished for xvhis misbehaviour; yet as constantly speak of him as a creature deriving all his thought, will, and dispositions from his Creator, and under his perpetual influence, and direction: the appearance of inconsistency in which two propositions, both undoubtedly true, proceeds only from our ignorance in the nature, and limits of free-will, and divine influence, and our inability to comprehend them. In the latter part of this Letter, a few hints are flung out, to shew that on the principles of the foregoing theory some of the most abstruse doctrines of the Christian revelation, of original sin, grace, predestination, and vicarious punishment might be rendered reconcileable to the strictest reason; a proposal from whence surely much advantage might accrue to the cause of Christianity in general, and by which possibly some articles of our own Church might xvibe proved to be much less incompatible with common sense than they are thought to be by all those, who will not subscribe them, and by many, who do: with this, two classes of men are particularly offended; the rational dissenters, as they please to call themselves, and the Methodists: the former of these having arbitrarily expunged out of their Bibles every thing, which appears to them contradictory to reason, that is, to their own reason, or in other words, every thing which they cannot understand, are displeased to see those tenets explained, which they have thought proper to reject: the latter having embraced these very doctrines only because they appeared unintelligible, are unwilling to see them cleared up, and afraid lest those dark and thorny covers should be laid open, under which they have so long sheltered themselves from the xviirays of reason: with either of these all debate would be vain, and useless, because the first, though for the most part honest, religious and learned men, are unable to comprehend any reasoning, which soars above the limits of their own confined literature, and education; and the others are determined to listen to no reasoning at all, having with all reason and common-sense declared eternal warfare.
The design of the fifth Letter is to shew, that in the government of such imperfect creatures as men over each other there must be much unavoidable Evil: that all human governments, whether of the monarchical, popular, or mixed kinds, were at first founded on force or interest, and must ever be supported by the same means, that is, by compulsion, or corruption, both of which xviiimust be productive of innumerable Evils: that these ought not to be imputed to God, because he could not have prevented them without the total alteration of human nature; much less can they be eradicated by men; but that they may in some measure be lessened by the diminution of Moral Evil, from which all Political Evils are derived; and therefore that we ought quietly to submit to these Evils, when they do not arise to any intolerable degree, and to apply principally that remedy to the faults of government, which is ever the most effectual, that is, the amendment of our own. It is no wonder, that a lesson so disagreeable to the restless humours of most men, and so repugnant to the arts and ends of faction, should call up against the Author many opponents, who have liberally bestowed on him the titles of an enemy to xixLiberty, and an advocate for corruption, with the same justice that a physician might be stiled an enemy to health, and an advocate for the gout, who in that distemper prescribes patience, and temperance, rather than such inflaming medicines as might convert it into a more dangerous disease. All that he has asserted in this Letter amounts to no more than this: that no government can subsist without some principle of governing; that is, that men cannot be governed without some means by which their obedience can be obtained; a proposition, which seems as incontestible, as that every effect must have a cause. That all government, must be disagreeable to those who are governed is demonstrable from the nature and essence of government itself, which being nothing more than a compulsion of individuals to act in such a xxmanner in support of society as they are neither wise nor honest enough to do from the suggestions of their own heads, or heart this compulsion must be contrary to both their judgments, and inclinations, and consequently disagreeable, and for that reason perpetually resisted: some method must therefore be made use of to overcome the resistance, and what that method can be except force, or interest, he cannot find out he is an advocate for neither; except from their necessity; and, if any one will point out another, he will readily declare his disapprobation of them both.
The sixth and last letter proceeds up the same plan as the rest, and endeavours to shew, that religious Evils, that is, the defects so visible in all human religion and the mischievous consequences resulting xxifrom them, are not owing to any want of wisdom or goodness in our Creator, but proceed, like all others, from our nature, and situation, and the impracticability of giving a perfect religion to an imperfect creature. In order to explain this it was necessary to point out the particular imperfections, which in fact do exist in all human religions, whether natural or revealed; not with any design to depreciate the one, or to invalidate the authority of the other, but only to account for them consistently with God's wisdom and benevolence: those charged upon natural religion have been readily enough agreed to, but those imputed to revelation have offended many, who have from thence considered the whole of this Inquiry as intended secretly to undermine the foundations of Christianity, than which nothing can be more averse from the intentions as well as from the sentiments xxiiof the Author: but indeed many late deistical writers have attacked that religion so unfairly by insinuating many cavils, which they dared not express, that they have made it very difficult for any one to treat freely on that subject, without incurring the suspicion of the same insincerity: of all such disingenuous artifices the Author sincerely declares his utmost detestation, and begs to be understood to mean all that he expresses, and nothing more: he solemnly professes, that by recounting these imperfections, he is so far from entertaining any secret designs destructive to that sacred institution, that by it he intended not only to wrest out of the hands of infidelity those weapons, with which it has ever been most successfully assaulted, but also to obviate all those doubts and difficulties, which frequently occur to the minds xxiiiof thinking men, though no infidels, on viewing the deplorable state in which all human religion has continued throughout all ages, and the ineffectual assistance it has received even from this divine interposition itself, by no means exempted from numberless Evils, and imperfections: to those, who perceive none of these Imperfections, and consequential Evils, he means not to write, nor desires to let in any new light on their tender organs, which can serve only to disturb their present repose; nor does he aspire to the honour of working for those middle sized understandings, who can be well fitted with ready made arguments from every Pulpit: to the learned, impartial, sagacious, and inquisitive, he alone applies, the establishing one of whom in a rational and well-grounded belief of the Christian Religion does more xxivreal service to that cause, than the inlisting legions under that denomination whose immoveable faith proceeds only from their ignorance; that is, who believing without any reason, can possibly have no reason for doubting. To account for the corruption of religion it was necessary to specify the particular abuses, and abusers of it: and here the Author could scarcely overlook the Clergy: but he hopes that nothing has escaped his pen, that can throw the least reflection upon them as Clergy, but as men only, subject to the same imperfections, and actuated by the same passions as other men, and pursuing the ends of self-interest and ambition by the same paths, in which all others would have trod, conducted by the same temptations, and opportunities; he has treated them with no more freedom than he has done Princes and Parliaments, xxvMinisters and Patriots, Conquerors and Heroes, and his work would admit of no partiality; sure he is, that nothing he has said can bear the most distant relation to the present Clergy of this country, whom he sincerely thinks are a body of men as honest, learned, and unprejudiced, as ever existed, and for whose persons and profession, he has the highest regard. In another part of this Letter there is an assertion, which has given some offence; which is, that every religion must be corrupted as soon as it becomes established: this has been thought a reflection upon all national churches, and a persuasion to schism, and dissention; but those, who think thus, totally misapprehend the tenor of this whole work, which endeavours to prove, that every thing human must be attended with Evils, which therefore xxviought to be submitted to with patience and resignation; that many imperfections will adhere to all governments and religions in the hands of men, but that these, unless they rise to an intolerable degree, will not justify our resistance to the one, or our dissention from the other: the assertion itself, the Author cannot retract, but the inference, which he desires may be drawn from it, is by no means favourable to dissentions, because from them he can perceive no remedy, which can accrue to these Evils: for if it was every one's duty to desert a national church on account of those corruptions which proceed from its establishment, and this duty was universally complied with, let us see the consequence! one of these things must necessarily follow; either that some dissention of superior purity, which usually arises from its being a dissention, xxviimust be established in its room; or no religion must be established at all: if the first of these methods should take place, the end proposed by it would by itself be entirely defeated; because that purer religion which was established would by that very establishment become equally corrupt with that which was deserted, and so the same reason would eternally remain for a new dissention: if the latter should be taken, that is, to establish no religion at all; this would be so far from producing the intended reformation, that it would let in such an inundation of enthusiasm, and contradictory absurdities, as must in a short time destroy not only all religion, but all peace, and morality whatever: of which no one can entertain the least doubt, who is not totally unacquainted both with the nature, and history of mankind. From, whence it xxviiiis plain, that all dissentions from a national church, not in itself sinful, arise from ignorance; that is, from a kind of short-sightedness, which enables men to pry out every imperfection within their reach, but prevents their discerning the more remote necessity for those imperfections, and the dangers of amending them.
To conclude: the Author of this Inquiry having heard it so much, and as he thought so unjustly calumniated, has reviewed it with all possible care and impartiality; and though he finds many things in the style, and composition, which have need enough of amendment, he sees nothing in the sentiments which ought to be retracted. His intentions were to reconcile the numerous evils so conspicuous in the Creation with the wisdom, power and goodness xxixof the Creator; to shew, that no more of them are admitted by him, than are necessary towards promoting universal good; and from thence to perswade men to an intire resignation to his all-wise, but incomprehensible dispensations. To ascertain the nature of virtue, and to enforce the practice of it: to prove the certainty of a future state, and the justice of the rewards and punishments that will attend it: to recommend submission to national governments, and conformity to national religions, notwithstanding the Evils and Defects, which must unavoidably adhere to them: and lastly, to shew the excellence and credibility of the Christian revelation, to reconcile some of its most abstruse doctrines with reason, and to answer all those objections to its authority, which have been drawn xxxfrom its imperfections, and abuses. These, and these only were the intentions of the Author; and if after all, a work so designed, however unably executed, should by the united force of ignorance, and malevolence, of faction, bigotry, and enthusiasm, be represented as introductive of fatalism, immorality, slavery, corruption, and infidelity, he shall be little concerned, and shall only look upon it as an additional instance of that Imperfection of mankind, which he has here treated of: from them he desires only an exemption from calumny: honour and applause he has not the vanity to hope for; these, he knows, they bestow not on their benefactors, or instructors, but reserve for those alone, who deceive, disturb, and destroy them.xxxixxxii33
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